Viktor Orban – enterprising democrat, strong man or autocrat?

Viktor Orban - enterprising democrat, strong man or autocrat? 1My attitude to Hungary’s Prime Minister is certainly divided, but I do not like the usual media image of him, where he is most often described as a power hungry dictator. That image is a caricature and really exaggerated.

The description of Viktor Orban follows the trend in the contemporary media debate, where everything must be black and white, evil or good, sweet or bitter. The real world does not follow these simple rules. And that is why we should not participate in this extremity game either.

Orban has the people’s support for his migration policy. And so in hindsight, his strategy has proven to be right. As many western countries are struggling with huge refugee-related problems, caused by mass migration of mostly economic migrants, and not real refugees. Too often orchestrated by Turkey’s leader Erdogan, who pulls the refugee crane over to Greece when, he feels that the EU is ignoring him. Orban could not be fooled. He went against the current and got it right. Although the situation is different today, we are partly facing other challenges.

To discuss Orban, we should first consider the concept of democracy. Most people believe that democracy is something good, nice and natural. A country should be democratic, there is no other opion. What many people forget is that democracy is a system to find trustworthy rulers. The system itself is neither good nor bad, it is actually quite neutral. And that’s the whole point.

The democratic system can produce very poor rulers, as in Sweden, but it can also present wise and trustworthy rulers, who will help the citizens and create better conditions for society.

The democratic system can also be used to plunder the minority on their assets. As long as the majority votes “yes”, the thefts are democratic, straightforward and legitimate. Or?

No, of course it does not work like that. Unbridled democracy can become fierce and develop into mob rule. The majority should not be able to vote to plunder, torment or murder the minority in any society. No government shall violate fundamental legal rules, regardless of how it is constructed.

Then we slowly begin to realize that democracy is mostly a way to reach a specific goal. And that this road is also lined with deadly traps. Therefore, most democratic countries are equipped with a number of checks and balances.

The Constitution is one such control body. It regulates what politicians are allowed to do. The Constitutional Court protects the Constitution, it regulates that politicians’ legislative proposals are in line with the Constitution. In addition, there should be checks and regulations within government agencies and authorities, where officials can be punished if they violate their powers. These control bodies may look different in different countries. The important thing is that they exist, and fulfill their purpose, to control power.

In Sweden, the controls are very weak. We do not have a constitutional court, the civil servants are rarely checked, and the constitution is changed many times. The general trend in the Western world is that politicians are gaining more power, and that controls are slowly weakening or eroding. Sweden has been a pioneer in this trend.

If we now return to Viktor Orban. The Hungarian Prime Minister is often accused of just this. That he is slowly removing democracy’s control bodies and balancing tools. And there is a point in the criticism, some of his legislative proposals have been to simplify for the politicians and ease the controls.

The interesting thing is that Hungary still has far more control points than, for example, Sweden. Hungary has a constitutional court and there are still intact instruments for sharing power. The Hungarian state is structured as a classic parliamentary democracy, and not a republic where the president exercises power, as in the US, France, etc. Perhaps this is where Orban wants to go, one day to become president with executive power, but then it requires extensive constitutional changes.

A few days ago, the Hungarian Parliament passed a law that allows the Prime Minister to govern by decree, without Parliament having to vote on the proposals. The measure is seen as a weapon in the fight against the corona virus, that the state power should be able to react quickly and direct resources wherever they are needed.

At the same time, Orban’s critics believe that the virus has not hit the country so badly, that Orban already has a majority in parliament, and that his ability to govern through decree is a way of gaining further power, and limiting the control points of democracy.

I am prepared to agree to that criticism. There is a dividing line between being a strong man, an enterprising person who saves the country from various crises – and a self-sufficient one-ruler. The question is whether that limit has been crossed?

Probably, the situation will return to normal in Hungary after the virus crisis. There is nothing that points to the opposite. Possibly some will consider Orban a powerful person who took on the problems during a difficult time. Especially if the virus crisis becomes severe. While others will see it as a violation, a betrayal.

Inside the magnificent Hungarian Parliament, when you are on your way to the Chamber itself, there are a number of beautiful reliefs along the walls. They depict various different occupational groups, farmers, craftsmen, traders, etc. The idea was for the MPs to see these images, and never forget who they served. After all, even though the parliament is clad in gold, it belongs to the people. And this applies not only in Hungary but in all countries.

Maybe Orban’s popularity has already peaked, and his star has begun to decline? He lost Budapest in the last local election. Now the opposition controls the city. Perhaps our strong man feels he must be even stronger? When what is really needed is a bit of humility.


Update. A short while after the article was finished, the Swedish government also requested to draft laws without passing the Parliament (Riksdagen).